Iona did her best not to make eye contact with the faces opposite, staring at her hands cupped in her lap. She could feel their eyes like laser beams. They made her skin crawl. The room they were sitting in wasn’t helping either. The drab walls, floor, and lighting made it seem more like a prison cell than anything else. Most of the light came from the windows near the ceiling though only a few rays reached the bottom thanks to the blinds. The sparse furnishings made her even more nervous, sat behind a small desk opposite the long table for the panel. It almost seemed purposefully designed to make her as uncomfortable as possible.
The panel of master arcanists regarded her with rock-faced expressions. Iona recognized most of them, having crossed their paths many times on her travels around the academy. The Head Instructor, Lorsek Tulskel, looked nothing like how she imagined a master arcanist to look. An old, overweight Haelqen, almost bald on top but with thick grey hair around the sides, a saggy face, weary eyes and a mouth that was small and miserable. Iona wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d never smiled once in his whole life. She hadn’t seen much of the Head Instructor but she remembered him from her first day when he’d welcomed the new cohort with a long-winded speech in the main hall. Iona didn’t recall much of what he said, having practically slept through the bulk of it. He didn’t look at her, too busy whispering to the academy’s deputy head, Polena Scalen, the middle-aged woman to his right. Sahel was right at the end, by far the youngest though his face was every bit as stern as the others. Iona couldn’t even look at him, still upset about his reaction when he arrived to collect her for training only to discover the new hole in her wall.
Immediately, Iona knew she was in trouble. She spent the rest of the night trying to come up with a convincing story but by morning she still had nothing. Her only option was to come clean. Suffice to say, Sahel was not impressed. Once he’d calmed down, he told her he had no choice but to inform the other masters, then ordered her to remain in her quarters until she was called for. He would soon return to tell her a meeting was to be held that afternoon after teaching where she would explain herself to the senior instructors. Iona had feared as much, fairly certain as to what the outcome of such a meeting would be. Sahel had warned her plenty of times about practicing unsupervised, and now she had damaging academy property and endangering students and staff to add to her quickly growing list of infractions. No way they’d tolerate her any longer, and she knew what that meant.
The maddening silence was broken by the clearing of the Head Instructor’s throat. “Alright, shall we begin”? Lorsek Tulskel sounded like he’d rather be anywhere else. When she first heard him speak, Iona thought he’d be much better suited for a career as a hypnotist than a master arcanist. He certainly had the voice for it. He read from a holo-pad in front of him. “Miss Iona Aventius. Student I.D. number 24-103. Eighteen years of age. Planet of origin: Valarayan. I’m sure you are well aware of why you have been called before this panel today”.
Iona gave a meek nod, not sure if she was to answer.
The Head Instructor looked up from his holo-pad. “And I am also sure that you are fully aware of the rules of this academy, since you were present at the introductory address and were provided with a copy of the student handbook which explains fully the rules all students are expected to follow over the course of their residence at the Selson Academy for the Arcane”. Iona indeed possessed a copy of the student handbook. It was stored away on her holo-pad though she’d barely looked at it since she got it. She thought it best to keep that to herself. “Not to mention that I am sure Master Cureen has made you fully aware of the rules and the consequences of breaking them”.
A few awkward moments passed before Iona realized it was her turn to speak. “Yes”, she said before looking back to her hands. She didn’t see much point in saying anything else. They’d clearly already decided what they were going to do with her. She’d known since she entered the room.
The Head Instructor fixed her with a harsh stare. “There is a reason why the use of arcane power without the supervision of an instructor is strictly forbidden. Do you know what that reason is”?
Iona nodded again, staring at her hands. She couldn’t look at the panel. Their expressions reminded her too much of Llannaeia.
“And do you understand why it is a legal requirement for those with arcane ability to train at an academy like this one? Why we spend our lives being monitored and scrutinized? Why we are all too often mistrusted and shunned in our communities and the galaxy at large”? The Head Instructor sounded angry, and hurt. Clearly, it was an issue close to his heart. “It’s because of things like this, and people like you who don’t respect the abilities they have been blessed with. There have been countless inexperienced arcanists who have experimented with their abilities without proper supervision and the results have been tragic. That is why academies like these exist, why most people don’t trust arcanists, why most of us have great difficulty fitting in in the galaxy and why, at this academy, we insist that students do not practice any Arcana when not in the presence of a trained instructor”.
It was Iona’s turn to speak again, but she could scarcely look up let alone explain herself.
“Do you understand that people could have been seriously injured by what you did”? Her silence only seemed to frustrate the Head Instructor further.
Iona could only nod. She wished they would just get it over with and tell her what she already knew.
“Not to mention the damage to your living quarters. Do you have any idea how much that will cost to repair”? She didn’t but she was sure it was a high number. That only made it worse. It was no mystery who would be paying for that.
“And then there’s the nature of the ability in question. Your record shows you’ve had no formal training before coming here and we do not teach those kinds of powers, especially to that level of destructiveness. Where did you learn to do that”?
Iona said nothing. She didn’t have the faintest idea how she did it. She only knew why. The way Llannaeia rebuffed her, belittled her, hurt her. It left her distraught, directionless, and enraged. The anger burned so hot within her she was surprised she didn’t burst into flames entirely.
“Did another student teach you how”?
Iona shook her head, tears forming as she neared her breaking point.
“Beginner arcanists don’t spontaneously gain access to that kind of power without prior training”, said Polena Scalen. “Where did you learn it”?
Iona couldn’t hold it in any longer. “I don’t know! It just happened. I don’t know how I did it. What does it matter”?
“It matters because untrained arcanists with access to abilities like that are extremely dangerous”, Polena shot back, unmoved by the tears now making their way down Iona’s cheeks. “Any ability that is not controlled has the potential to be deadly”.
“Can we just skip to the part where you tell me you’re kicking me out”? Every moment she sat there was more time wasted delaying the inevitable. Iona knew what was going to be done with her the moment she looked through the hole in her wall. But instead the panel was quiet, save for the whispering of Lorsek and Polena. That was odd. She would’ve thought they’d waste no time telling her she was to be banished. The panel’s silence ignited a flicker within, though, as had recently been made clear, it wasn’t always a good idea to get your hopes up.
The Head Instructor looked to her again. “As I am sure you have read in your student handbook, Miss Aventius, the official policy of this academy in the face of gross arcane misconduct is immediate banishment. And in an incident such as this, there would usually be no question as to what action to take”.
Usually? The flicker burned a little brighter.
“However”, Iona was then surprised to hear. “Master Cureen has made a compelling case in your defence”. Iona’s eyes lit up like flames at the ends of her fingers. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. In the blink of an eye, she went from feeling like her world was ending to more relieved than ever. She could have jumped for joy though restrained herself while under the panel’s gaze.
“You will be happy to hear, Miss Aventius, that Master Cureen has informed us of some personal difficultues that likely contributed to the incident in question”. The Head Instructor didn’t sound very happy about it himself. “And, as such, we have decided to withhold banishing you from this academy”.
Despite her joy, Iona couldn’t help but be confused about these “personal difficulties”. She knew what they were but she hadn’t told Sahel nor anyone else. How could he know? Was Lorsek referring to something else? Did Sahel lie to protect her?
“However”, Lorsek said again. “I must stress to you the gravity of the situation, Miss Aventius. You have caused significant damage to academy property and endangered the wellbeing of staff and students. Your family will be informed of the incident and the academy will be seeking compensation to cover the repair costs. And finally, I promise you, that if there are any more violations of the rules, no matter how trivial, you will be banished, immediately. Is that clear”? His words were so cold he might as well have been spitting icicles at her.
Iona nodded, fighting not to smile. “Yes. Thank you so much. I’m sorry for what I did. I promise it won’t happen again”.
Judging from his look, Lorsek didn’t believe her in the slightest though Iona was far too happy to care. “I declare this hearing adjourned”. He got up and waddled to the exit along with the rest of the panel. No one looked happy with the decision. Were it not for Sahel, she would have been on the first transport home; that much Iona was sure of. It wasn’t until they’d all gone that Iona could bring herself to leave her seat. Sahel was the first person she met when she stepped into the hallway. Her eyes immediately went to the floor. She was about to be told off again. Iona hated being told off.
Sahel approached her. “I told you time and time again about practicing unsupervised and you didn’t listen to me”.
“I know. I’m sorry”.
“I’ve heard that time and time again also”. He’d calmed down since the morning though still sounded angrier than Iona was used to hearing him. “Do you have any idea how serious this is? The reason we have these rules is to stop things like this from happening. You could have been hurt and you could have hurt others too. People have died from meddling in Arcana without knowing what they were doing”.
The tears began forcing their way from her eyes again. Iona was powerless to stop them. “I was just trying to lift the ball. I don’t know how it happened”.
Sahel sighed. “I do”. Finally, she was able to look him in the eye. “Our emotions play a massive role in how our abilities manifest themselves, you know that. And in times of great anger or grief we can gain access to the more destructive abilities our gift grants us, even if we’ve never been taught them before. The only problem is that, when we’re angry, or grieving, or afraid, it is much harder to control our abilities, especially for a novice”.
It all made sense. She’d felt so angry as she left the ship, more than she could ever remember, her rage continuing to burn long after she’d returned to her room. All through the night all Iona could think about was the way in which Llannaeia rejected her. With the firestorm of emotion raging inside her, it was a wonder the academy was still standing. But something still puzzled her. “What did he mean about personal difficulties”?
“I told him about your sister. I told them she was part of the crew of the ship that was just here and there was some kind of argument between you two and you were angry and upset after seeing her, which is fairly obvious”.
“But how did you know? I never told you I had a sister”.
“The young woman we ran into yesterday. You both knew each other and you looked awfully similar. It doesn’t take a genius to guess you’re related”.
Iona nodded. “Her name’s Llannaeia. Yeah, she’s my older sister”.
“And from what I saw yesterday, I take it you two aren’t on good terms”? Iona shook her head. To say they weren’t on good terms was something of an understatement.
“Do you want to talk about it”?
Iona shook her head again. Even thinking about Llannaeia brought pain. She doubted talking about it would feel much better.
Sahel stepped forward and placed a hand on her shoulder. “The only way things are going to get better is if you to talk to someone”. He sounded like his usual self now. “If you keep your emotions bottled up inside then things like this are going to keep happening. If you’re not in control of your emotions then you can’t be in control of your abilities”.
He was right, like he always ways. But it still wasn’t enough to make her want to open up. So much pain rested beneath her surface, lying dormant but very much there. Iona couldn’t bear to think what she might feel were it to be unleashed.
Sahel drew her in close, wrapped his arms around her. “You know I’m here to help you and not just in mastering your abilities. My job is to look after your wellbeing. When you do want to talk, I’ll be here to listen”.
Iona looked Sahel in the eye, finding comfort in his embrace. “Thank you”.
He held her a few moments longer before releasing her. “And no more practicing alone. I’m serious this time. You’re on very thin ice and they will banish you if you break any more rules. I won’t be able to protect you forever, do you understand”?
Iona nodded. “Yes. I won’t. I promise”.
Sahel didn’t look all that convinced. “I hope so”. Iona wasn’t sure if she believed herself. She liked to feel powerful, and using Arcana made her feel more powerful than anything else. “It’s too late for practice now. I suggest you return to your room and think hard about everything I and the Head Instructor said”.
Sahel escorted her to her room, most likely to make sure she didn’t get into any more trouble. On her way to the bed, Iona noticed the metal ball on the floor nearby. She must have knocked it off when she was flailing around with a burning hand. She hid it away in the bottom of her dresser in the hope of removing the temptation to break any more academy rules. It was hard to relax after the day she’d had. She took out her holo-pad, sat down on the bed and scrolled through the hundreds of books stored on it, eventually coming to the Selson Academy for the Arcane Student Handbook though only to scroll past it without a second thought.
After much deliberation, Iona settled on the Extraordinary Arcane Legends of Ancient Karasen, one of her favourites. She’d read it about a dozen times and still never failed to be amazed by the incredible tales of the arcanists who walked the lands of her ancestors many thousands of years ago. Her favourite stories were of Erladein the Unbreakable, and Sephyera the Healer.
But even as she started to read, it was impossible to unwind. Every few words, her eyes were drawn to the hole into the utility closest next door. Iona closed the book and tossed the tablet aside, then lay back and stared at the ceiling. Only now did she truly realize the size of the bullet she’d just dodged, how close she’d come to having her hopes and dreams crushed. Llannaeia would have had a field day if she found out it had gone that way. She couldn’t help but wonder what their parents would think if they could see her, after all they sacrificed to get her where she was now. The thought made Iona sick. How could she have been so thoughtless? No, there could be no more mistakes; no more screw-ups. It was time to start following the rules.
Iona picked up the holo-pad and opened it once more. She opened the book library and scrolled down until she reached the student handbook but, rather than scroll past it, Iona opened it and started to read.